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The Nativaeamerican Experience, According To Fredrick Turner's Accounts, Analyzed According To Rousseau's Social Contract

1828 words - 7 pages

The Native American experience in American history has been a central process in forming America's "institutions, ethos, and the character of its people" (Ringer 117). Through the construction of a "dual colonialist-colonist societal system" the American has forcibly and systematically secluded the Indian from all societal, cultural, and economic gains reaped by territorial expansion (116). Frederick Turner makes a valid claim when addressing the "importance of the frontier in the development of American institutions and society and of the character of its people" (117). The frontier "was a significant feature of the American experience" and critical in many aspects of American life (118). Whether for those on the frontier or not, the Native American experience was a defining episode of historic relevance in all modes of American culture. The importance of such an experience is largely contestable.
Some scholars such as Frederick Turner believe that the encounter with the Native American is the American experience par excellence. The frontier experience is what gave birth to the culture of America we know today. In national defense, for example, the "Indian was a common danger, demanding united action"; the threat of Indian hostility was considered "instrumental in the development of a common defense" among sectional divisions of the country (119). Ringer however disputes Turner's claim as biased, only discussing "the virtues of the frontier experience" rather than the "deep-abiding racial and cultural antipathy and prejudice" that "was part of the frontier heritage" (119-20). The "bifurcated value system" of the frontier and its "schizoid character" of trying to promote, yet control, Native American life illustrates "the basic paradox of the frontier" (120). The fact that Americans allowed the continuance of Native American culture, yet broke treaty agreements and contracts made is a paradoxical situation that presents the duality of the American psyche: to democratize, yet imperialize. In essence, this "duality is the central meaning of the frontier heritage in America" (120). By extension, this duality is the hallmark policy by which America operates.
Although the encounter with the Indian prior to independence was relatively docile and friendly, the colonist was largely devious in his dealings with the Indian. The prime example of interactions with the colonist and the Indian "involved signing a treaty which 'lulled' the natives 'into a sense of false security,' which the colonists had no intention of keeping" (121). Ringer comments: "In the early days both parties met at these negotiating sessions as they did on the battlefield as virtual equals" (124). Open hostilities between the colonist and Indian did not develop until 1675 with the outbreak of Bacon's Rebellion and King Philip's War. "Little attention was paid to the needs and grievances of the Indians and to the injustices visited upon them" in the aftermath of conflict (124). In the...

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